Putin Under Pressure Has Hermes Bullish on StocksNatasha Doff
The Micex stock index sank to a two-month low after the downing of a civilian jet in Ukraine refocused attention on Russia’s involvement in the war there. To Hermes Fund Managers Ltd., sellers may be making a mistake.
International outrage over the tragedy will put so much pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin that he will probably push for an end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, said Gary Greenberg, an emerging-markets money manager who helps manage about 26.9 billion pounds ($46 billion) at Hermes. He said he’s sticking to his overweight position on Russian stocks.
“Because Putin’s in a weaker position, he’s more likely to be accommodative and further de-escalate the military conflict, which should result in equity values going back up,” Greenberg said in an interview in London yesterday. “We remain slightly overweight on Russia.”
The crash of Malaysian Air flight MH17 has galvanized sentiment against Russia, which leaders in the U.S. and European Union say supplied the missile that took down the plane and killed all 298 people aboard. Less than a week after the U.S. approved new measures designed to punish Putin for failing to end support for the Ukrainian separatists, EU foreign ministers are debating how to deepen their own sanctions.
The Micex Index fell 3.9 percent in the two trading days after the crash, following a 2.3 percent drop fueled by the new U.S. sanctions targeting Russian companies including banks, energy suppliers and defense firms. While the gauge was up 0.4 percent at 1.43 p.m. in Moscow today, it’s still down 7.1 percent from this year’s high on June 24. The benchmark trades at 5.1 times projected 12-month earnings, compared with a multiple of 11.3 for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.
Greenberg’s Global Emerging Markets Fund has returned 1.9 percent in the past three years, beating 69 percent of peers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The fund is overweight OAO Sberbank, Russia’s biggest bank, discount retailer OAO Magnit and Internet company Mail.ru Ltd. Further sanctions on Russia are unlikely to target these companies, Greenberg said.
Sberbank Asset Management, the state-controlled lender’s investment unit, said it was buying Russian stocks in anticipation of a rebound. Other banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Deutsche Bank AG are recommending investors sell Russian equities.
The Micex rebounded yesterday from the steepest drop in four months after rebels in Ukraine released bodies from the airliner crash site. The separatists deny downing the plane. The Bloomberg Russia-US Equity Index of the most-traded Russian companies in the U.S. gained 1.5 percent to 86.17. The dollar-denominated RTS stock index rose 0.7 percent to 1,276.26 in Moscow today.
“Right now, we’re investing tactically since we see a good level for a rebound on political events in Ukraine and amid Russian companies’ dividend payouts, which are coming back to the market,” Evgeny Linchik, a money manager at Sberbank Asset management, wrote in an e-mail yesterday.
The Sberbank Actively Managed Fund, which Linchik manages, has returned 17 percent this year, beating 97 percent of peers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Russian stocks have whipsawed asset managers this year. They plunged about 18 percent in the month through mid-March as Putin responded to the ouster of his ally in Ukraine, President Viktor Yanukovych, by sending troops into Crimea. He ultimately annexed the region after citizens voted to secede from Ukraine in a disputed referendum. Russian troops have begun massing anew on Ukraine’s border recently.
The tumble was followed by a 23 percent surge over a four-month period as tensions between Moscow and the U.S. and EU showed signs of easing. The benchmark’s 30-day historical volatility reached a five-year high of 46.20 on April 11.
Just a month after lifting its call on Russian stocks to buy, JPMorgan on July 18 reversed course and told investors to sell amid the tougher U.S. sanctions and heightened tensions on Ukraine after the MH17 tragedy. John-Paul Smith, the Deutsche Bank strategist who predicted Russia’s 1998 market crash and accurately forecast a May rebound, said on July 17 that the Micex could lose 10 percent by the end of this year as investor sentiment weakens.
Philipp Good, who helps oversee $2.5 billion of global bonds at Fisch Asset Management Ltd. in Zurich, said his fund bought bonds of oil companies OAO Gazpromneft and OAO Sibneft yesterday because Russia has enough domestic resources to help major companies refinance debt, while sanctions by the EU won’t be tough, as the region’s economic ties with Russia are strong.
“Russia has to take a clearer stance toward the situation in eastern Ukraine” after the plane crash, increasing chances for a diplomatic solution, Good wrote in an e-mail yesterday.